LAS VEGAS — The lobby of the Sahara hotel and casino looked like a wake. Across the shiny expanse of sand-colored marble, clusters of black-clad mourners huddled together, speaking in hushed, worried tones. Some turned to alcohol to drown their sorrows, passing around a half-empty bottle of tequila even though it was only noon. Others openly wept.
There were more fishnet tights, corsets and spiked dog collars than one sees at most vigils, but that was to be expected given the circumstances: The crowd wasn’t supposed to be in the Sahara. They were, at that very moment, supposed to be across the street at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds, moshing and cheering and wailing their brains out at the first day of the When We Were Young festival — a much-anticipated gathering of some of the biggest emo and pop-punk acts of the 2000s. It advertised artists and bands such as My Chemical Romance, Death Cab for Cutie, Bright Eyes, Jimmy Eat World and Paramore. It was the Warped Tour on steroids. It was Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, if Willy Wonka were a scene kid who peddled post-hardcore punk rock instead of candy. It was a chance for aging emos to relive their LiveJournal days, except better, because now they have disposable income and their parents can’t tell them what to wear.
Instead, Mother Nature, the National Weather Service and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department had conspired against them. On Saturday, merely hours before the first day of the festival, organizers sent an email informing attendees that because of “dangerous 30 to 40 m.p.h. sustained winds with potential 60 m.p.h. gusts,” the first day of the festival had been canceled. Concertgoers who had bought their tickets directly from the festival would receive a refund within 30 days.
“A lot of sad emos around here today,” a 30-something man in a tight black T-shirt and black Vans was overheard saying. “I was ready to be sad but, like, at the shows.”
Most of the attendees had bought their tickets for the event back in January, when Live Nation first announced it. To many, it seemed too good to be true: over 60 of the most heavily eyelinered, angsty rock bands of all time, all in one place, for one day only. (At least it started that way: Saturday, Oct. 22, was that day, but the 60,000 tickets sold out so quickly that event organizers added two more days — Sunday, Oct. 23, and Saturday, Oct. 29 — both of which also sold out.)
It certainly wasn’t the affordability that drew the crowds. Tickets started at $250 for general admission, and $520 for V.I.P. tickets. (At the higher price point, ticket holders were entitled to perks including air-conditioned restrooms, charging stations, free water and an exclusive viewing area.) But fans were willing to pay for a chance to see the bands they grew up with. Kelly McIlwe, 31, and Liz Mattise, 34, traveled to Las Vegas from Scranton, Pa. They estimated that between the tickets, travel expenses and hotel costs, they spent over $5,000 on the weekend. “We don’t make a lot of money, and it’s hard to get time off work,” Ms. Mattise said.
The money wasn’t even what they were most upset about, though it was certainly a difficult and expensive pill to swallow. “I’ve loved these bands since I was 15,” Ms. Mattise said. “And to see them in a situation where they’re like us — they’re our age now, or they’re older than us — it’s not going to happen again.”
Next year’s festival is already sold out, Ms. Mattise explained, and it’s a different lineup, anyway. “The money part sucks,” she said, “but we also came here to have this experience, and now we have nothing.”
Not all hope was lost, though. On Twitter, some bands announced they would try to set up pop-up shows around the city. Hawthorne Heights and Red Jumpsuit Apparatus announced that they would be playing at the Strat hotel, and All-American Rejects said they would be playing a free show at the restaurant SoulBelly BBQ that night at 9.
Groups scrambled to make plans. Those with money to spare tried to buy tickets for the next day of the festival, though there were rumors that on some resale sites, tickets were selling for $1,200 or more — if the tickets were even real. Sofia Reyes, 21, said she had been scammed out of $265 by an account on Twitter that claimed to have tickets for Sunday, but stopped responding to her as soon as she transferred the money.
A couple from Mexicali, Mexico, gave up on the festival entirely and bought Katy Perry tickets for that night, saying they were “pretty affordable.”
Outside the hotel, groups of emos floated up and down the Strip like murders of crows, their neon hair and band shirts buffeted by the powerful wind. The air filled with dust and debris, giving the area a slightly post-apocalyptic feel.
On the sidewalk in front of the empty festival grounds, visitors gathered to collectively mourn and vent their frustrations. Some used chalk to write out song lyrics, and to leave messages of sorrow and anger. “When We Were Robbed Fest” read one; “#EmoIsDead” read another.
The missives were dark, impassioned — an understandable response to profound disappointment. But as one woman explained, some of the torment was part of the emo nature.
“The emo community is built on the common experience of mental health illness,” said Tilly Bean, 23, who had come from London for the festival. “That’s the foundation: depression, anxiety — you name it.”
As amped-up as visitors were, these were still adults with jobs, families and personal management skills. Protestations stopped short of any actual chaos, and even their revelry had been carefully planned. One woman from Long Island pulled out her phone and showed off the detailed schedule she had made for the day. In addition to the times and places that all of her favorite bands would be performing, the schedule included prompts like “eat food.” She was still getting notifications every hour or so, which she said made her sad.
John Weaver, 27, said that his flight from Pittsburgh had been remarkably calm because so many of the passengers had been respectful, quiet emo elders.
“You know how on most American flights there’s like, eight screaming brats?” he said. “We had the most peaceful flight over here, because 90 percent of the people on it were coming for this.”
About a mile north of the festival grounds, an emo society was sprouting up outside SoulBelly, the barbecue restaurant. The line of people hoping to see All-American Rejects snaked down the block, behind the back of the building and then back around, until the back of the line and the front of the line almost met. Those waiting had formed quasi family units with whomever was sitting around them. A small but thriving economy had developed, too: Enterprising neighbors brought a cooler full of Bud Lights, Modelos and water bottles that they were selling to the thirsty, dusty crowd — $3 for a beer, $1 for water.
The line even had its own representative government of sorts, in the form of one energetic young person named Phoenix who served as a liaison between the venue and those outside, running up and down the line, updating hopefuls on timing, their position in the line and the likelihood that they would get in.
By 8:30 p.m., the crowd outside SoulBelly had spilled into the street. The line had gotten rowdy after a long day of drinking and having dirt blown into their eyes. A number of people were sitting atop an S.U.V. parked directly outside the venue. In front of the gate, a crush of people held up hot pink wristbands that had been handed out at some point to help identify the 250 or so people who would be allowed inside. Above the gate, Phoenix’s head popped up again, begging people not to push. “OK, Antifa,” one man grumbled.
The wind was still gusting, and a few people speculated with a hint of schadenfreude that the festival might be canceled the next day as well. But it went off without a hitch.